Restoring St. Patrick’s in New York to cost $175 million


Catholic News Service

NEW YORK — St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “America’s parish church and the soul of the capital of the world,” will undergo a $175 million, five-year restoration project that is necessary for its survival, according to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York.

Cardinal Dolan made the announcement on the steps of the cathedral March 17, hours before reviewing the 251st St. Patrick’s Day Parade up Fifth Avenue. He said the 133-year-old landmark is a “supernatural home” for Catholics, all believers and people with no explicit religion “who come here for a hint of the divine and assurance of help.”

The ambitious project is not a cosmetic facelift, Cardinal Dolan said, but a sorely needed response to crumbling bricks, splitting windows, aged heating, a leaky roof and a grit-encrusted facade.

A statue of St. Patrick overlooks the nave of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York March 17. The cathedral will undergo a $175 million, five-year restoration project that is necessary for its survival, according to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York . (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Cardinal Dolan said $45 million was raised for the first part of the three-phase project, which will begin before the end of March. The initial work will repair, restore and clean the soot-darkened exterior and clean the stained-glass windows “inside and out,” he said.

The cardinal acknowledged the daunting task of raising $175 million in a tight economy. “The dare of the campaign could chill us” if not for the pride and passion evident in the New York community, he said.

As he donned a red hard hat after the announcement, Cardinal Dolan quipped, “This hat’s gonna cost me a lot more than one in Rome did.”

At a festive Mass between the announcement and the parade, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien encouraged worshippers to support the renovation. Cardinal O’Brien, grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, is a native New Yorker who served the archdiocese for 30 years. He and Cardinal Dolan were elevated to the College of Cardinals in February.

In his homily, Cardinal O’Brien challenged people to make sacrificial offerings in thanksgiving for the religious freedom they enjoy. To applause, Cardinal O’Brien said religious freedom was imperiled by not-so-subtle government strangulation.

He said the history of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, from its inception in 1859 by Archbishop John Hughes, New York’s first archbishop, to its dedication by Cardinal John McCloskey in 1879, was a tribute to Archbishops Hughes’ foresight and the commitment of Irish immigrants both to their faith and to their new country.

Cardinal O’Brien said contemporary pundits called the project “Hughes’ Folly” because it was thought to be unrealistic, poorly timed, too expensive and too remote from the heart of New York. “Irish immigrants were openly rejected by the elite of the day.” Cardinal O’Brien said.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Irish immigrants and their descendants filled St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the heart of midtown Manhattan and then spilled out onto Fifth Avenue to join 2 million spectators and more than 200,000 marchers at the oldest, largest annual parade in New York.

Cardinals Dolan and O’Brien and New York’s retired archbishop, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, concelebrated the Mass with five bishops and more than 60 priests. At the Mass and the parade, special recognition was given to American military veterans, especially the U.S. Army’s 69th Regiment.

The “Fighting 69th” was organized as an Irish brigade from New York during the Civil War. Cardinal O’Brien said the brigade’s heroism at the battles of Antietam, Md., and Gettysburg, Pa., were principal causes of the Union victory in the Civil War. He said the Irish brigade’s noble tradition has continued during its multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After Mass, Msgr. Robert T. Ritchie, rector of the cathedral, said the renovation will maintain the building’s innate Gothic beauty and status as a place of honor to God and welcome to all people. He said the cathedral will remain open throughout the project and work will pause during Masses.

Popular lore holds that the cathedral was built with the modest contributions of Irish immigrant domestic servants. Msgr. Ritchie said the campaign to fund the restoration would “look to John and Mary Doe” and others who appreciate the religious, architectural and cultural significance of the cathedral. He said donors will be able to contribute funds and follow the progress of the renovation on a dedicated website.

Helen Lowe, archdiocesan development director, said the first $45 million came from early donors and grants from the archdiocese and the trustees of the cathedral. The campaign to raise the remaining $130 million will include direct-mail solicitation, national and international outreach and solicitation of the cathedral’s 5.5 million visitors annually, she said.

Lowe said potential donors are horrified and intrigued by a box of stones displayed in her office. All fell from various parts of the cathedral. She likened the considerable fundraising challenge to medieval times when churches were built as a sign of praise for God.

Jeffrey Murphy, a partner in Murphy Burnham Buttrick, the architectural firm in charge of the restoration, said hundreds of jobs will be created by the project. He said acid rain and general pollution had eaten away at the Tuckahoe marble used for part of the cathedral.

Although the quarry in neighboring Westchester County where the stone was cut is long closed and inaccessible, marble retained from the quarry was located and purchased for the project.

Msgr. Ritchie said the last large-scale renovation was completed in the 1940s.